Lelit Bianca V3: My wordy impressions after 2 months of use

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boren

#1: Post by boren »

In the last few months I upgraded to a Lelit Bianca V3 and a Flair 58, coming from another E61 + lever duo that served me relatively well for the last 5 years or so - a QuickMill Alexia Evo and an Elektra Micro Casa a Leva. Both the Lelit and the Bianca are clear upgrades in cup quality, ease of use, user experience and consistency. The only thing I somewhat miss from my old setup is the eagle on top of the Elektra boiler cover.

Below is my summary of the main Bianca pros and cons, as well as a short list of some features I think Lelit should consider implementing in the next version/s of the machine.

Pros:
  • Produces excellent espresso and milk-based drinks with ease.
  • Beautiful design and build quality. Everything sits perfectly aligned, nothing rattles and materials are of high quality. I'm bewildered as to how some people find reasons to complain here. The machine is also packed brilliantly and comes with many high quality accessories, including a heavy metal tamper, a range of IMS baskets in different sizes, a bottomless portafilter and a double spout one that actually sits level on the counter, removing the need for a tamping stand.
  • Flow control paddle is easy to use and effective, and the 180 degree range (side-to-side) is just perfect. It gives a clear visual indication to the level of flow, compared to other similar kits for E61 machines that require multiple turns of a handle. I also recently had a chance to pull a couple of shots with a La Marzocco GS3 (costing several times the Bianca) and was very disappointed with the pressure profiling control. It had more friction and the range of movement was too narrow, resulting in big changes to pressure with very little movement of the handle. To make things worse, the pressure gauge rotates with the handle, requiring the user to shift point-of-view to be able to see it clearly. With the Bianca it always faces the user.
  • Electronic low flow mode is an easy solution for turbo shots, though maybe 1 bar short of the recommended pressure. I'm not yet convinced it's beneficial for other purposes.
  • Pre-infusion is very configurable, with PI time, PI pause and low/high pressure options.
  • Heats up much faster than other E61 machines, thanks to a clever "superheating" phase during initial warmup. Based on some tests with a Scace portafilter the machine is usable in 16 minutes and fully temperature stable in about 20 minutes. This is less than half the time it took my previous E61 machine and at least 10 minutes shorter than most current E61 machines. It's short enough for me to not bother programming a smart plug to turn on the machine in the morning. I just turn it on manually, go about my business and when I want my coffee it's usually ready.
  • Insulated (no-burn) steam and hot water wands.
  • Steam is dry and powerful. The 4 hole tip is a beast, allowing me to easily steam 150ml of milk in about 15 seconds. It's a bit too powerful for smaller amounts suitable for a Macchiato. The 2-hole tip works better for this purpose.
  • Water tank can be placed on the back or sides of the machine. Very clever.
  • Can be plumbed in and connected to drain. I haven't tested this one yet and not sure I ever will. I prefer to concoct my own water and haven't found a way to do it with a plumbed in machine.
  • The rotary pump is very quiet compared to what I'm used to from the QuickMill.
  • If the water tank runs out, the machine allows you to continue the shot. For the next shot however you need to refill the tank. Nice!
Cons:
  • Lelit's L58 grouphead is apparently different from a true E61 grouphead, and the company is not providing details about the differences. The one thing I noticed is that it lacks the middle lever position. This means there's no way to hold pressure (e.g. during backflush, with the pump off) and no way to pause manual pre-infusion when one sees first drops. The Lelit lever does have a middle "click", but it seems to serve no purpose and behaves the same as the top lever position.
  • The vacuum breaker is located above the drip tray, spewing water on the body of the machine during warm up.
  • The cup riser is a bit too small. It can hold a scale, but you need to place it carefully.
  • Maximum pressure is calibrated to 10 bar out of the box. Reducing it to 9 bar or less is possible using a 10mm and 14mm wrenches, via an adjustment screw and a locking nut at the bottom of the machine. It's not as accessible or an elegant solution as the OPV adjustment in my previous machine, which required nothing but a coin. Personally, I decided not to mess with this for now and keep the option of increasing pressure beyond the optimum. Update: I reduced it to 9 bar and intend to keep it that way. The upside is that, if I want, I can get classic 9 bar shots without touching the flow control. The downside is that maintaining 9 bar throughout the shot is no longer possible. If the flow control is fully open and pressure reduces to 8 bar due to puck degradation there's no way to increase it back to 9.
  • By default the machine goes to Standby mode 30 minutes after it's ready. Standby is really just a nice name for the machine turning itself off completely. The only difference is in how you wake it up, by interacting with the buttons or lever instead of the power switch. I can't imagine why Lelit thought this would be a useful feature. A much more useful option is Sleep mode, where the machine turns the steam boiler off and switches the brew boiler to 70°C (~160°F). Unfortunately Standby needs to be disabled for Sleep mode to actually take precedence; otherwise the machine practically powers itself off after 30 minutes, regardless of the Sleep period you set. How to do disable Standby isn't documented in the manual. The trick for toggling this mode on and off is to lift the coffee lever and then power the machine through the on/off switch.
  • There's no way to quickly disable "electronic profile" settings (PI, low pressure etc) if you want to use manual flow control paddle for the entire shot. If you don't want the electronics to interfere, you need to go through the LCC settings and disable them one by one. No fun.
  • The puck is a bit more wet than with my previous machine, using the same basket and amount of ground coffee. This is solved easily by increasing the amount of coffee a bit.
  • 20 second maximum pre-infusion pause (or in Lelit speak - "PRE INF. time OFF") is too short. For some some light roasts I'd like to be able to set 30 seconds or even a minute.
  • The water tank has no level indicator. The LCC tells you when you need to refill, but unfortunately when it does so it's instead of the shot time, not alongside it.
  • Poor documentation, with significantly less details than the excellent instruction manuals of some other Lelit machines. They should rehire their old tech writer.
Enhancements and new features I'd like to see in a Bianca V4 or later versions:
  • Electronic pressure profiles controlled via an app or a rotary dial with named profiles. With the already-supported low pressure and high pressure modes and configurable time slices it should already be possible to create useful profiles. I'm not expecting Decent level configurability, though it would be nice.
  • Automatic pre-infusion pause (when first drops appear). Alternatively, a way to interact with the machine and manually stop the pre-infusion flow step to proceed into the pause step.
  • Grouphead thermometer, without giving up the grouphead pressure gauge. I know there's only one port. Figure it out.
  • Hybrid sleep / standby mode. For example, switch to Sleep mode after 2 hours of inactivity, then Standby after 5 hours.
  • Option to lock the steam wand direction (stop it from moving freely). My Elektra had a fixed steam wand and I used it sometimes with an adjustable height platform, for hands-free steaming. With the Bianca this is impractical because the wand moves so easily.
  • Volumetric control (e.g. via pump cut-off)
  • Scale built into the drip tray, displaying the weight and flow-rate (in ml/s) in the app or on the machine itself
  • True E61 with a middle lever position that actually maintains static pressure in the group
  • Relocate the PID display further away from the drip tray, e.g. to the upper right corner
One can only dream. In the meanwhile, I'll be happily using my Bianca for (likely) then next 4 or 5 years.
★ Helpful

kafou

#2: Post by kafou »

Good review boren,

I'm new to this Bianca and not really in control of all these options (paddle, pre-in, low flow) but I can say that I'm having much more fun using this machine than my old Silvia. :)

I can confirm the fast machine heat up and that I also found that the vacuum breaker is not the best design and that surely it operate more with the V3 with is faster heat up. I also already deactivated the standby mode.

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slybarman

#3: Post by slybarman »

boren wrote:
Enhancements and new features I'd like to see in a Bianca V4 or later versions:
  • Grouphead thermometer, without giving up the grouphead pressure gauge. I know there's only one port. Figure it out.
  • Relocate the PID to upper right corner
Thanks for the review. I'll give my $.02 on the two requests above.

Thermometer - I was all about the thermometer on my last machine - HX E61 that was something of a dragon. Flushes on that machine were critical. I haven't really found the need/want for it with the Bianca. I haven't found the temps to swing wildly or cause any issues. While I do not know exactly what the group temp is anymore, I haven't really cared the way I used to.

PID control - I can see why higher up would be better, but if you look a this area, I don't think there is space and the ergonomics wouldn't be good because of interference from the brew lever, the paddle and the how water knob.

boren (original poster)

#4: Post by boren (original poster) »

slybarman wrote: Thermometer - I was all about the thermometer on my last machine - HX E61 that was something of a dragon. Flushes on that machine were critical. I haven't really found the need/want for it with the Bianca. I haven't found the temps to swing wildly or cause any issues. While I do not know exactly what the group temp is anymore, I haven't really cared the way I used to.
I tested my previous E61 machine (single boiler with PID) and the results were disappointing enough that I almost decided to rule out E61 for my next machine. We know how that ended. In any case, I like the espresso I'm getting with the Bianca and perhaps it's better that I don't know how temperature stable it is (or isn't). Maybe ignorance is the recipe for bliss.
PID control - I can see why higher up would be better, but if you look a this area, I don't think there is space and the ergonomics wouldn't be good because of interference from the brew lever, the paddle and the how water knob.
Yes, you may have a point. To fit the PID at the top they'll need to either change the size and ratio of the display to something shorter and wider, or add a couple of centimeters to the top of the front panel. Alternatively, just put a small display for temperature and shot timer and move all the settings and control to a smart app, where things are a lot easier to browse through and change.

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slybarman

#5: Post by slybarman »

FWIW, others have scace tested the Bianca and found temp stability to be quite good.

here is one demo showing 2 degrees of what was set on the LCC

boren (original poster)

#6: Post by boren (original poster) »

I'm actually less concerned about shot temperature, but more about temperature consistency between multiple shots, and especially consecutive ones. But I'm not really that concerned anymore. As long as the coffee is good (and it's great), if temperature is not perfectly consistent, I can live with it. By staying with an E61 machine and not getting something like the Lelit Elizabeth or Breville Dual Boiler I knew I'm trading some temperature stability for other features (like flow control, better build, looks etc).

Amberale

#7: Post by Amberale »

You can use the paddle to stop the pre-infusion, that's one of the reasons it is there.

If you tighten the nut on the steam wand it will stiffen up the movement.

boren (original poster)

#8: Post by boren (original poster) »

Amberale wrote:You can use the paddle to stop the pre-infusion, that's one of the reasons it is there.
I know, and that's what I do when I want to bloom for longer than 20 seconds, but unfortunately the pump still works. I would much prefer to be able to control blooming start/stop with a press of a button, and with the pump idle.
If you tighten the nut on the steam wand it will stiffen up the movement.
Interesting idea, thanks. Is there no risk that over-tightening would tear the steamer gasket?

Amberale

#9: Post by Amberale »

The collar nut on the wand is separate to the steam valve.
It takes a moment to remove, dab a bit of MolyKote111 and then tighten back up.
Normal maintenance item. :D

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Ursego

#10: Post by Ursego »

boren wrote:20 second maximum pre-infusion pause (or in Lelit speak - "PRE INF. time OFF") is too short.
I think, it's better to pre-infuse in the Slayer style, using the FCD. Just wait until you see the first drops (regardless the seconds), and then fully open the flow. To increase sweetness, you can wait 7 seconds after the first drops before opening the flow, as the Slayer manual suggests. BTW, pre-infusion increases unevenness since the high layer of the puck is pre-infused much longer than the low. I gave up pre-infusion and prefer the "blooming profile" (5 sec of full flow, then fully close for 30 sec, then fully open).